Thursday, January 24, 2019

New Campaign Urges Renewed Effort to Expand CAISO

By Robert Mullin

A coalition of environmental, renewable energy and business groups called on California officials Tuesday to reignite CAISO’s effort to expand its operations into other areas of the West.

The groups — which include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Entrepreneurs, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Solar Energy Industries Association — issued a letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown and top state lawmakers to support legislation facilitating the ISO’s transition into a Western RTO.

“An integrated Western Grid is essential to a goal that we know all of you share: meeting our ambitious clean energy targets while driving down energy costs and creating new good-paying jobs,” the letter said. “We urge you to continue the process toward legislative authorization of a transition to a fully independent board for an independent grid operator that all Western utilities and generators will have the opportunity to join.”

CAISO western RTO California's Energy Future

The coalition kicked off its Secure California’s Energy Future campaign in response to the Trump administration’s move to roll back the Clean Power Plan, EPA’s chief initiative to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants. (See Trump Begins Attempt to Undo Clean Power Plan.)

“California has an opportunity — and a responsibility — to continue its leadership in responding to our climate crisis by working to integrate the Western grid,” Ralph Cavanagh, codirector of NRDC’s energy program, said in a statement. “While the White House and some in Congress are trying to roll back the climate progress we’ve made, Sacramento can take action and secure California’s energy future.”

Reduced Costs, Increased Reliability

The campaign’s supporters contend that integration of the Western grid would reduce costs and increase reliability for the region’s electricity customers, reduce the need to curtail output from renewable resources and “safeguard against price gouging by unscrupulous power marketers,” while at the same time allowing state governments to retain control over their energy policies. They also tout the benefits to California’s economy, including expansion of the state’s clean technology sector.

“Every day, California is basking in clean, affordable, reliable solar electricity,” SEIA CEO Abigail Ross Hopper said. “By enabling the state to fully utilize this solar resource, including sharing it across state lines, Californians will reap the benefits of increased jobs and investment and billions of dollars in electricity savings.”

A 2015 California law requires the grid operator and state energy agencies to explore ISO expansion to help the state meet its 50% renewable energy mandate. California lawmakers must sign off on any such expansion, which would necessitate that the state yield its direct oversight authority over CAISO once the grid operator becomes a multistate organization.

Brown Presses Pause Button

With skepticism mounting against regionalization efforts, Brown last August postponed CAISO’s expansion effort, saying he wanted state agencies to take more time to develop a governance proposal for the new RTO. (See Governor Delays CAISO Regionalization Effort.) Before that announcement, Brown had expressed hopes of delivering a proposal to state lawmakers before they concluded their 2016 session in September.

Progress on regionalization has since slowed. While the ISO last October released the third draft of a proposal outlining the principles for governing a Western RTO, nothing formal has been submitted to the legislature for consideration. (See Latest CAISO Proposal Fills out Western RTO Governance Plan.)

“We continue to be involved in discussions with stakeholders, and we get requests for briefings from lawmakers about the studies” related to the economic and environmental impacts of regionalization, CAISO spokesperson Anne Gonzales told RTO Insider. “The ISO is a technical resource for policymakers to understand the studies and the governance changes.”

Gonzales said the ISO has no stakeholder meetings scheduled to further discuss regionalization.

Agreement on a governance plan represents the biggest hurdle for expanding CAISO. Skeptics outside California have expressed concerns about the populous state’s potentially outsized influence over a Western RTO, while those within California are worried about losing the ISO as a key instrument for achieving the state’s environmental goals. (See Governance Plan Critics Urge Slowdown of Western RTO Development.)

The new campaign appears to be an attempt to jump-start the effort to overcome barriers to grid integration.

Other campaign supporters include the Independent Energy Producers Association, Bay Area Council, Health Care Without Harm, Sierra Business Council, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and SunPower.

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